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Killyleagh – Island Reagh

This 18km trip offers an opportunity to explore many of the small islands on the Western Shore of Strangford Lough. Can be reversed if wind direction requires.

18 (9NM)
Nearest Town
Route Shape
OS Map
Access Point
Killyleagh - J530525
Egress Point
Island Reagh National Trust Car Park (Tidal) - J525645


Points of Interest

Island Taggart, Islandmore, Ballydorn Lightship, Sketrick Castle, Nendrum Monastic site.


This itinerary has been compiled using an estimated paddling speed of 2 knots (roughly 4 km per hour).  Although most ‘weekend’ paddlers will be comfortable paddling at 3 knots, this calculation allows for exploring, refreshment breaks and photo stops.  The timing estimations assume light or calm winds and do not make allowance for the help or hindrance of tide. 

It is important to check the weather forecast before departing.  It may be prudent to reverse the trip if wind speed and direction favour this.  Reasonable shelter can be found amongst the islands, however it is worth noting that some areas dry out completely at low tide and it is wise to consult the OS Map or Admiralty chart for this information.  Numerous busy sailing clubs operate from bays and inlets all along this section of coastline – paddlers should remain vigilant and give sailing boats a wide berth where appropriate.

The trip starts at Killyleagh (GR J530525), not far from the town centre, where obvious road signs points to the agreed canoe access point.  Limited roadside car parking is available just to the south of the rocky shore access.  The town itself is well serviced for any pre or post-trip needs with a grocery store, café, and numerous pubs. 

From here, the paddle heads north following the western shore all the way to Island Reagh (Reagh Island, GR J525645), exploring as many or as few islands as time allows.  Paddlers can choose the inside or outside passage around each island - the desire to seek shelter or avoid dried-out bays may influence route choice.

Island Taggart (GR J535545) is the first island encountered on the paddle north.  Owned by the National Trust, landing and exploration is permitted.  The island has been uninhabited since the late 1960s and the remains of a small settlement are still visible half way along.  Notably, the island was used as a location for filming the ‘December Bride’, a story of life in the area in the early 1900s

Travelling north again, the next point of interest is Islandmore (GR J542585), or ‘Big Island’.  The blue house perched on the western shore of the island was immortalized in the book ‘The Blue Cabin’, a recent story documenting island life on Strangford.  Running north again, landing is possible on Darragh Island (GR J538603), also owned by the National Trust.  This marks the half way point of the journey and is a good opportunity to stretch legs and have some refreshments.  Directly to the east of Darragh, Greenisland Rock (GR J544602)is a popular ‘haul out’ for common seals.

The second half of the trip north offers many points of interest for the paddler.  At Sketrick Island (GR J526626), the ruins of Sketrick Castle (east end of the causeway) – a tower-house constructed in the mid 15th Century, can be viewed from the water.  The island also boasts a popular eating establishment, Daft Eddy’s (adjacent to the castle), which is well worth a visit during or after the paddle.  The pub-restaurant opens from 12 noon everyday.

Just north of Sketrick Island and adjacent to the mainland sits Ballydorn Lightship (GR J528628).  Now serving as a rather unconventional clubhouse for a local yacht club, the vessel operated as a lightship from 1911 until its decommissioning in 1968.  It is possible to end the journey here, egressing at a small slip to the south of the lightship at GR J523627.  Limited roadside parking is available.

Tidal currents run in the channels between Sketrick and Rainey Island, and between Rainey and Mahee Island, where they are particularly strong (up to 5 knots).  This is a good area to practice moving water skills.  If necessary, it is possible for the most part to sneak along eddies against the tidal flow.

Mahee Island is the site of Nendrum (GR J524636), a pre-Norman Monastic site, still with original ruins.  This is located at the highest point of the island and is clearly visible from the water.  The monastery was set up by St Machaoi in the 5th Century and has also been linked to St Patrick.  Access to the site from the water is limited, however paddlers can land within easy walking distance on the north side of Mahee Island (GR J524638) at high tide.  It is worth noting that the bay to the east of Island Reagh dries out to a distance of approximately 400 metres offshore, preventing access at low tide.

From here, a short paddle north leads to the egress point on the rocky shore beside the National Trust Car Park on Island Reagh (GR J526645), again not accessible at low water.  The paddle can be further extended by egressing beside Ringneill Quay (GR J522654) at the west end of the causeway between the mainland and Island Reagh.  Even at low water, paddlers can locate a deep water channel running towards the quay from the north.  Limited roadside parking is available here.

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